Summer Reading: Saints and Romance

Summer reading doesn’t have to be frivolous. It doesn’t have to be guilty.

But, for me, it does have to be good. The story, the writing, the whole “taste” of a book: it has to be up-to-par.

John Beahn originally published A Rich Young Man in 1953. TAN Books re-released it last year with updated punctuation, spelling, and diction, and corrected typographical errors. It landed in my mailbox, and I found myself curled up and getting to know an old friend in a new way.

St. Anthony and I go way back. I’ve become as bad as any Catholic I know for turning to him when I lose anything, and during some difficult days in my second pregnancy, I couldn’t help but turn to him, as he was my patron saint of the year. He’s a patron of pregnant women, though less well-known for that.

This book made me realize that maybe I do like historical fiction. It’s classified, properly, as biographical fiction. The story takes you through life in the 13th century, when Anthony, only son and heir of a knight of the court, seems sure to do what his parents want.

The facts are simple enough: Anthony was a son of a knight in the court of Portugal’s king. He turned his back on his wealth and the power he could have had, and became instead a Franciscan priest. He went on to become famous as a preacher, reformer, miracle worker, champion of the poor, and even a Doctor of the Church.

Anthony becomes more than just the Tony I call on when I can’t find my car keys. Some of the mystery and inaccessibility that I couldn’t help but feel toward him was changed thanks to this novel. Beahn’s re-telling, which is based on both historical records and traditions, rekindled my devotion to Saint Anthony.

I find, as did Chesterton, “Literature is a luxury, fiction is a necessity.”

Tan Books is doing all of us a service by making this book (and the others in the TAN Legends series) available again. I’ll be looking for more of them, that’s for sure!

Do you like historical fiction? Do you like books that are Catholic without, you know, shoving it down your throat? Do you have a few days to spend on a book?

Because, yes, Ellen Gable’s latest book, A Subtle Grace (Full Quiver Publishing, 2014), is the kind of book that will suck you in, hold you captive, and leave you better for having read it. It’s a good story, well told, and I can heartily recommend it. (I may or may not have skipped right past my bedtime while I was reading it, and I may or may not have had “Good Novel Hangover” afterward.)

This book follows the story of Gable’s earlier novel, In Name Only (Full Quiver Publishing, 2009), though it’s completely stand-alone. It’s set in 1896 in Philadelphia. The O’Donovans are a large Catholic family, and oldest daughter Kathleen, the novel’s main character, is pining for a suitor.

She finds one, and it ends not-so-unexpectedly. Though he’s handsome, he’s also a jerk…and he ends up being the antagonist throughout the novel.

While we’re left wondering if the other guy, who seems too good to be true, will be her Prince Charming, there’s drama in the background that’s real enough to leave you feeling like you just got off the phone with your own relatives. (Or is it just me?) One brother is discerning the priesthood, which has its own set of problems, and another brother’s found to be in some big trouble.

Admittedly, this is written more for the female audience, as it’s full of romantic elements and the plot does center on the main character’s love interests. I couldn’t help feeling, as I read it, that it would be the perfect beach (or back yard, if you’re a staycationer like I am this year) read, sweet tea at hand.